1. Fool Me Once: As the expression goes, “Fool Me Once: Shame on You. Fool Me Twice: Shame on Me.” In 2008, Barack Obama had a world-historical opportunity to turn the country in a new direction. Bush’s policies had led the country into a disastrous situation and everyone knew it. In the primaries, Obama showed that he understood this fact. He beat Hillary because she refused to apologize for her vote supporting Bush on the Iraq war. He argued that we needed a new mindset, not just new policies. When he came to office though, he continued all of Bush’s policies, sometimes even worsening their effects, as in the realm of civil liberties. Now he is running as a left-winger again. I don’t know how many leftists will be fooled a second time, but if they are: shame on them.
2. What do the Republicans Want? Most likely most Republicans, and certainly the Tea Party, have written off this election. Unlike many Democrats who just can’t stop hoping that Obama is one of them, most Republicans recognize Romney for what he is: someone who has contempt for the far right of his party. If he’s elected he inherits a mess and Hillary comes roaring back in four years. If Obama is elected he will have another four disastrous years, and the Republicans will be perfectly poised to pick up the pieces, this time with a “real conservative” not a corporate liberal in right wing dress.
3. What about the Supreme Court? As usual, we are all hearing the arguments about how important it is to elect Obama because he will probably get to make some Supreme Court appointments. This is the same incredible pressure that corporate liberals put on leftists every four years. My question is, at what point do we get to think long term about the country? I am not urging that we support Romney. I am urging that we think beyond this election. After all, if Republicans can do it, why can’t we?
4. What can we expect from an Obama victory? This is the easiest question of all to answer. There is another proverb, to put beside “Fool Me Once…Fool Me Twice” that speaks to this: The first time as tragedy, the second as farce.
5. What should we be doing if not working in the Obama campaign? The most important thing right now is to clarify our identity as a Left. We need to talk to one another before we have something to say to the country. People speak of “the Left” as if they know what it is. I think we need to talk about “A Left” because we don’t. In defining our identity we will find not that we need to distinguish ourselves from the Republicans: MSNBC can do that. We need to distinguish a real left from the Obama supporters who want to convince us that we were naïve to hope for a change in 2008, that the US Presidency is a weak office, that this is a conservative country, and that someone like Obama is the best we can hope for. We need to get back to first principles and not get caught up in the baloney again.
Eli Zaretsky is professor of history at the New School for Social Research and the author of Why America Needs a Left: An Historical Argument.